Terrence Higgins Trust: Nelson Mandela stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with those living with HIV

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The Acting Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, Paul Ward, says he was personally inspired by Nelson Mandela’s “compassion” and advocacy when it came to the issue of HIV.

Tributes are pouring in for Mandela, who died on Thursday at the age of 95.

His death was announced yesterday evening by South African President Jacob Zuma.

Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Britain’s largest sexual health and HIV charity, paid tribute to Mandela on Friday.

THT Acting Chief Executive Paul Ward said: “Nelson Mandela’s inspirational leadership has been as important in the fight against HIV as anti-HIV treatments. Whenever he addressed a World AIDS Conference, no one could fail to be moved to action. The ideals he stood for – freedom, compassion, and the universal human right to love, life and happiness – struck a chord at a time when people with HIV, myself included, were facing unacceptable levels of prejudice and discrimination.

“Nelson Mandela was one of the few world leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder with people with HIV, and the legacy of that will continue to be felt not only in South Africa, but in countries and communities worldwide.”

Along with pioneering today’s era of racial integration for his country, Mandela presided over the establishment of gay rights in South Africa.

The country’s post-apartheid constitution in 1997 was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In later years, Mandela became known as one of Africa’s most important HIV campaigners.

But some commentators, including the Telegraph’s David Blair, say Mandela was initially slow off the mark in responding to South Africa’s HIV epidemic during his time in office.

After Mr Mandela left office in 1999, he campaigned for more research into HIV, for education about safe sex and for better treatment for those affected in his country.

His successors, presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma for many years displayed widespread ignorance about HIV, hampering South Africa’s response to the epidemic and openly questioning the scientific logic of established effective anti-retroviral medication.

According to Medicine San Frontières, an estimated 5.6 million people are living with HIV in South Africa, the highest figure worldwide.

In 2005, Mandela announced that his only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, had died from an AIDS related illness.

“I announce that my son has died of AIDS,” Mandela said in a news conference. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.”

Lord Chris Smith, the UK’s first openly gay male MP, announced he was HIV positive in 2005, citing Mandela’s comments about his son as inspiration.

Speaking at a BNP Paribas event in October, the former MP said that it was Nelson Mandela’s speech on HIV awareness that “tipped him over the edge” to eventually talk about his own HIV status.

He said: “The way we really can confront HIV and AIDS is by talking about it, and by telling people about.”

Lord Smith served as Culture Secretary for Tony Blair until June 2001. He retired as an MP at the 2005 general election.